In this blog, we will hear from Elizabeth Calcaterra (she/her). Elizabeth is a Youth Program Specialist here at Youth MOVE National. We are honored to share Elizabeth’s story with you all!
Before reading, we want to acknowledge that this blog contains personal experiences and discussion surrounding suicide and suicide prevention. If you are someone you know is struggling, you can call or online chat with:
Chat Online by visiting – 988lifeline.org/chat
Call or Text 988
The Lifeline is a 24-hour toll-free phone line for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. An online chat option is available. *Please note that The Lifeline recommends crisis counselors contact emergency services (911, police, sheriff) for assistance only in cases where risk of harm to self or others is imminent or in progress and when a less invasive plan for the caller/texter’s safety cannot be collaborated on with the individual.
Please consider your emotional well-being before reading further. We encourage all our Youth MOVErs to put their mental well-being first. You are not alone, and there is help and hope available.
Each year, millions of young adults contemplate suicide. Four years ago, I was one of them.
Each year, hundreds of young adults spend time in inpatient. Four years ago, this was me.
I was not what everyone viewed as the typical “suicidal person”. I didn’t appear sad, I was able to get out of bed each day, I was able to eat, go to class, and work. To me, these things were hard, but not doing them was harder. I didn’t want to let anyone down, and what I believed was expected of me was to be a positive, outgoing, smiling person. Because of this I found myself sitting in a chapel full of people, experiencing so much emotional pain that I could think of nothing else other than ending my life.
The next steps I took changed my life. At the time I felt weak for doing it, but I know now it was an action of immense courage and strength.
I sat in the chapel for hours. No energy to move but no will to live. Eventually I moved enough to text my friend the truth- I wanted to kill myself. The energy I found to send this message started a chain of events; things I never would have expected but would ultimately impact the next 72 hours of my life. Changing it for the better.
My friend showed up to see me and, with them, the Assistant Director of Resident Life. Unbeknownst to me, the person I texted was on duty as a Resident Assistant when he received my message, and per protocol, he had to contact his boss. So, while sending this message saved my life, school protocol made it also one of the hardest nights of my life. Immediately, I was separated from my friend and isolated from everyone else I knew. My phone was taken away, and I was in a room with adults I had never spoken to, being told I needed to share my inner thoughts. Thoughts I had not yet shared with anyone. This was only the first stop in my long night, and it would not get easier.
After being interviewed by the Assistant Director of Resident Life and the Director of Counseling services at my college, I was driven to an inpatient mental health clinic nearby the school. Despite my request to visit my dorm or talk to a friend, per protocol, I could not get clothes, contacts, medications from my dorm; nor could I contact my therapist or psychiatrist about the situation. I never felt more alone and broken than the car ride with two strangers, in the middle of the night, to a place where I would be locked in without anything except for the clothes on my body.
After hours of questioning, I was sent to a room without my anti-depressant or sleep medication and told to go to sleep. The staff was nice but informed me that since I had not brought any prescriptions with me, they could not provide any medication until I met with the psychiatrist in the morning. I spent the night sitting in a ball in the farthest corner, wearing jeans and no shoes, making eye contact with the night shift staff every 15 minutes when they did their safety checks. My thoughts shifted from wanting to end everything to the intense pain and isolation I felt in that moment. But I was alive.
The next few days were better, uplifting. Where I landed ended up being a safe haven for me. I could make phone calls to people in my support system, and they could call me. I was in groups with people that wanted to get better and were open about their experiences. The staff supported me, and I was able to speak to my therapist about what happened. The same friend who carried out his duty in reporting me picked me up 2 days later and drove me back to campus in a healthier mindset. After this experience, I was able to provide answers to my close friends and those close to them about the inner workings of the in-patient program in my city. Helping individuals like me to determine the best path of action for their life.
Not only did this experience save my life, it changed my life. I was now an advocate for my own emotions and did not feel obligated to hide my struggles in my lowest moments. I know the loved ones in my life that care about me want me to get better more than they need me to be the bubbly person they always expect; I also learned that people constantly want to talk about what they are going through. Being open about my experience has opened doors for many people to seek the help they need. The conversation today has changed to include an openness to suicide and the thoughts that surround it, but there are still unanswered questions for people struggling, and within the support system of those struggling.
The truth is that not every program will work for every person. And simply calling an inpatient clinic because you are suicidal does not mean you will be admitted. I was admitted because of the protocol at my school, and yes it worked out for me, but it does not work out for everyone. The first steps are knowing and building your support system. Find a therapist that works for you. Find a psychiatrist who understands medication and will work with you. Build a support system of people you will be honest with AND are both willing to push you to get help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to do mental health programming if you struggle to get through the day. An outpatient clinic might be the best path for you. Work with your therapist and support group to be honest about what is best for you, and don’t expect immediate results.
Do your research. Take your time. Take the leap if you need to.
If you and your support system determine that mental health programming is your next step, keep in mind the following things:
- Research local places that offer programming. Some may have better reviews than others, some may have more targeted programs that would work better for you.
- Call without expectations. Be honest with a social worker about what your thoughts, actions, and current safety plans are. They will work with you to determine if an inpatient or outpatient option is best for you. Mentioning you are suicidal does not mean they will admit you immediately for inpatient care. Know this ahead of time.
- If you decide to go inpatient, know what the expectations will be. Not every place is the same, but many have safety restrictions.
- Pack comfortable clothes without strings, small straps, or pieces of metal. Make sure to wear shoes without laces and bring socks.
- Bring any medications you currently take with you so the doctors can review them.
- Write a list of the names and numbers of your support team to bring inside with you.
- Share the name, number, and brief explanation with your support system so they are not worried about where you went when you go inpatient.
Most importantly, mental health is not something that can be solved overnight. Keep level expectations about what can be achieved during your time in programming, but be open, honest, and willing to do what it takes to get even a little bit better.
I am someone who has struggled with suicide, someone who likely always will at times. I am a success story for inpatient mental health programs. But I was also wronged by the system in the process. I am a realist and an optimist. I am human.